It would be difficult to miss the change in the English Higher Education climate as the Office for Students introduces key metrics – or thresholds – to be met and surpassed for programmes to meet the updated Conditions of Registration. One of these metrics is ‘Graduate Outcomes’, where the requirement is for a graduate to be in ‘highly skilled’ employment 15 months after completion of their programme of study – without allowance for context or career path and where philosophical approaches to education are ignored. Some universities will be tempted to withdraw programmes that present a risk to achieving these thresholds or might be increasingly risk averse in terms of admissions? However, at Edge Hill University the aim is to support students to develop and articulate the range of graduate attributes they acquire. The twofold challenge is therefore to embed the development of graduate attributes into curricula and to ensure that students (and staff) can articulate their experiences.
In 2020/21, Edge Hill University updated the list of graduate attributes that our students should be able to evidence upon completion of their degree. In 2021/22 this was enhanced by the development of a glossary describing these attributes. Simultaneously, the Faculty of Education undertook a cross-Faculty project to create a set of baseline assessment criteria. Reflecting good quality co-production where the ‘destination’ is not foreknown (according to one tongue-in-cheek description) the resultant assessment criteria and supporting documentation was very different than expected at the start of the process – and included the embedding of feedback on graduate attributes development.
The assessment criteria and supporting documentation is fairly traditional in format, detailing the academic skills of students, such as subject knowledge, use of literature, analysis and evaluation etc. The supporting documentation for the assessment criteria includes a one-page overview of the QAA Qualification Framework expectations at L4 – L6, incorporating the graduate skills that the QAA itself expects to see, e.g. decision making in complex and unpredictable contexts at L6.
The significant difference is that we have incorporated graduate attribute development into the new assessment rubric. An excerpt from the L6 criteria is included below. When an assignment is marked, the tutor will provide additional feedback to the student to reflect the extent to which the student has evidenced specified graduate attributes, which the student can then use in their professional portfolio development (required for all programmes) and job applications. Programme Teams agree which graduate attributes will be linked to each module and review what this looks like across the whole programme – it would defeat the object if ‘English proficiency’ was addressed in every module and ‘complex decision making’ was never considered. Consequently, students see how they are developing skills that are useful for the (graduate) workplace. In addition, colleagues become more knowledgeable of graduate attributes and more aware of their role in supporting students’ development and preparation for their post-graduation.
Helena is the Learning and Teaching Development Lead in the Faculty of Education, Edge Hill University. She has had a varied background including stockbroking, teaching Business and Economics in a sixth form college, PGCE Business Course Leader before undertaking her current role in 2017. This current role allows her to pursue wider interests in employability and staff development in learning and teaching. She also owns a gym and is a Reader in the Church of England.